Why Learning Outcomes Are a Game Changer For Your Workshop

May 20th, 2021

Putting together a good course or workshop seems easy - right? But did you know that the biggest complaint from students after completion of a course or workshop is that there was too much material to grasp. How can you avoid overloading your students with all you know?

This is where having clear learning outcomes, not only for the course but for each part of your course can really help.

Learning outcomes keep you focussed on what knowledge/skill you wish to teach and helps you to not stray into other areas which can become confusing for your students. It might be nice to have a more free flowing workshop but if your students have come to it expecting to learn something particular then you have to ‘do what it says on the tin’ or they could be left confused or dissatisfied.

If, during the workshops, the students show a particular interest in one aspect of what you’re teaching, make a mental note and offer a more in depth workshop on that topic at a later date. Try not to be tempted to stray off in that direction, especially if your workshop is an introduction to the topic. Remember you only have a limited time to get through your material.

So what is a learning outcome?

When devising a series of workshops/courses, have one or two main learning outcome that you want your students to have grasped at the end. Don’t make it too broad. So, for example, ‘I want the students to be able to meditate’ is too broad. A better learning outcome might be ‘At the end of the course I want the students to know the benefits of meditation for helping anxiety and to have practiced two or three breath exercises which they can then go away and do on their own.’ These learning outcomes are more specific and something very tangible for your students to take away.

I remember, when I was at teacher training college, one particularly brilliant tutor saying to us that you want the students to walk away from your lessons with something they can hold in their hands and say they have learnt. Something very clear and specific.

Once you’ve got your two or maybe three main learning outcomes (don’t be tempted to go for too many!), they will then inform how you structure your course. So, using the example above – you may decide to spend some portion of your lesson on the theory of why meditation is so good for you and some of the time practising the skill of meditation. Or you might dedicate the whole of the first workshop to the theory and the other workshops to the practise. It’s up to you but I would say that within any workshop you need a good mix of students listening to theories/ideas and also something practical (that could include a quiz, journaling, discussing in small groups, etc)

If you become stuck on what you should be teaching – always come back to your main learning outcomes and ask ‘Does this serve my main aim (s) of this course’. If it doesn’t then be focused and don’t include it! Save that knowledge or skill for another course, no matter how much you like it or like teaching it.

Within each session you should also have one or two learning outcomes and again they should all feedback to and support the main learning outcomes. So you want to think about what you want your students to learn at the end of each session and for each session to have a sense of progression.

So taking the meditation example – the first session learning outcomes could be ‘I want the students to understand the evolution of the brain and the negative bias.’ The second learning outcome could be ‘I want the students to experience a body scan as the primary way to begin to tune into the body’

One outcome is very factual, the other experiential which makes for a good mix. But it doesn’t have to be like that – it could be all factual during one session or all experiential. But as a general rule you want to try and mix styles over the period of a course, if not also mix it during the session.

Once you have your learning outcomes for each session that will further hone what you are going to teach and how you are going to teach it. Ideally you want to aim for progression in each session – with each session building to the last one that then puts all they have learnt in to practice or completes a body of knowledge. Much of this will depend on what you’re teaching, of course, but as a rule of thumb, progression is good!

Write it all down!

Having your learning outcomes set out in an easy to read document really helps you to go from one week to the other with a clear idea of what you’re teaching and why. Writing it down also means if you have to miss a week and you need a colleague to take over, they have a good working document to go from. We at the Isbourne have put together our own simple lesson plan which we are asking tutors to use on our next set of four week free courses.

Once you have completed the course – go back and evaluate what worked and what didn’t and whether you need to change the content or even the learning outcomes. Ask yourself if the learning outcomes where achieved (there is always unintended learning, that’s ok) and if not then why not? Do you need to change how you teach it or maybe the learning outcome wasn’t specific enough. This kind of reflection is great because it will help you to devise and deliver an even better course next time!

Kathryn Buxton

College Manager, The Isbourne